News Local

New tree bylaw in Barrie may have a hard time taking root 10 

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Thursday, May 16, 2013 8:43:54 EDT PM

City council is in the process investigating the feasibility of deleting the current definition of a public tree, in the city's public tree bylaw, which states 'Any tree which has 50% or more of its main stem situated on a public park, highway or any lands owned by the City of Barrie is a public tree.Mark Wanzel/ The Barrie Examiner /QMI

City council is in the process investigating the feasibility of deleting the current definition of a public tree, in the city's public tree bylaw, which states 'Any tree which has 50% or more of its main stem situated on a public park, highway or any lands owned by the City of Barrie is a public tree. Mark Wanzel/ The Barrie Examiner /QMI

 

Any changes to Barrie's public tree bylaw will first have to bear fruit in the community services committee.

There's where a motion for a different definition of public trees was sent by city council earlier this week.

Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth wants a new definition of what is, and what isn't, a public tree in this city.

“For me this is correcting an injustice. There is nothing complicated about it,” she said. “I believe this expense, responsibility and liability was downloaded on an unsuspecting public by the addition of one clause defining what a public tree is in a new tree bylaw.”

Coun. Barry Ward says the review is not a simple process, however.

“This has turned out to be a lot more complicated than Coun. Ainsworth thought," he said Monday. Last week, Ainsworth convinced a majority of councillors to have city staff investigate the feasibility of deleting the current definition of a public tree, in the city's public tree bylaw, which states 'Any tree which has 50% or more of its main stem situated on a public park, highway or any lands owned by the City of Barrie is a public tree.'

Ainsworth wants it replaced with wording that reads 'any tree having any of its main stem situated on a public park, highway or any lands owned by the City of Barrie is a public tree.'

She wants staff to report back to Barrie councillors by this fall on the financial and resource implications of this change. Ainsworth says there are several factors to consider.

“Besides everything else, taking down one of these monster trees can cost a small fortune,” she said. “Can you so abruptly decrease constituents' services or increase taxes on a home - depending on how you view this situation - to those with the happenstance of having had the municipality plant a tree in front of their home probably decades ago?

“You can’t just decrease services or increase taxes for just some residents of Barrie. Where’s the grandfathering. All taxpayers need to be treated equally.”

But Dave Friary - the city's director of roads, parks and fleet – has said there could be some big numbers involved, including dollars, in getting the answers wanted by Ainsworth.

Barrie has approximately 32,000 trees on its boulevards, plus those in parks, woodlots and environmental areas. Of those boulevard trees, about 7,800 trees overlap the property line. The city would need surveys to see what is, and isn't, a public tree and the trees might need to be trimmed.

If the tree is determined to be public, the city would have to add it to the tree inventory and do an assessment to determine if pruning is required.

The cost of pruning 7,800 trees, at $300 each, would be a $2.34 million. That would be to prune all the trees, however, and some may not require pruning, but during their lifetime they would require maintenance. The $300 is the average cost for a contractor with a bucket truck and chipper to perform two hours work on a tree with a 24-inch stem. There's also a question whether the city has enough staff to do this work.

But Ainsworth has said it's not her intention to count every tree in Barrie.

“I would rather (Barrie's) operations (department) not spend the time and money trying to ascertain what trees they might be able to wiggle out of ownership obligations for, based on the 50.1% idea,” she said, noting the bylaw is four-years-old.

“Better practice might be to look back and determine how many times, after being called out to attend maintenance on a tree, did the city instead do a survey and tell the homeowner it is not a public tree.

“I venture to surmise there are lots of homeowners out there that have never been informed that, according to the bylaw, they own the tree in front of their house and all that goes with ownership including liability. Would their insurance cover this 50.1% ownership plan if, for instance, their newly acquired tree fell over on a passing car and dented the roof or worse?”

Ainsworth represents Barrie's east end and says most of the trees in question are in the older sections of the city. The tree which brought this to her attention has a trunk girth of 10 feet and was planted by the municipality - as it is one, in a row of several trees, planted decades ago along an east-end street.

Before By-Law 76-162 was repealed and replaced on June 1, 2009 with By-Law 2009-098, there was no definition of a public tree.

Ainsworth says the current bylaw also saves the city money, but costs individual property owners.

“Previous to 2009 there was no definition of a public tree and everyone presumed if a tree was planted by the municipality and sitting on city property it was a public tree. Not so today,” she said. “If by measurement the stem (trunk) has grown and has encroached private property over the years by 50.1% or more, the city comes out and advises the homeowner it is their problem, their expense, their responsibility because they now own the tree.

“Not fair in my eyes. I might even consider this an abuse of power.”

Ainsworth said she is fine with this matter being sent to community services committee, which next meets June 19.

bob.bruton@sunmedia.ca